Today is the day! DC Rebirth #1 is out, and with it, a crazy new chapter begins in the annals of DC Comics’ long and storied history. There’s a lot of big teases in this huge 80-page special—we’ve read through the whole thing and broke down the biggest reveals, and what they might mean for DC’s multiverse going forward.
DC heroes imbued with the Speed Force are really bad at dying. Wally West, the original Kid Flash who vanished when the New 52 was created at the climax of Flashpoint, is just the latest speedster not to have simply died like everyone thought, but to have become part of the same energy that gave him his superspeed powers, just as Barry Allen did before him.
Wally spends most of the issue as part of the Speed Force, attempting to warn his friends that something is horribly wrong. He’s occasionally able to yank himself back into reality to appear to people he used to know: Batman, Johnny Thunder (an old school DC hero who was a member of the Justice Society), and eventually the love of his life, Linda Park. Sadly, Wally’s time in the real world is short every time he appears, and none of the people he encounters with his warning can remember who he is.
...except Barry. Wally visits his mentor and hero last—grief-stricken after Linda can’t remember him—as a final goodbye before the Speed Force begins to consume him. Just as Wally says his farewell, Barry realizes who he is, a remembrance powerful enough that it doesn’t just make Wally whole again but makes Barry begin to remember elements of the old Pre-52 universe, like the original Teen Titans and the events of Flashpoint (being the sad-sack he is, Barry immediately assumes it’s all his fault).
But Wally’s return also means there are now two Wally Wests in continuity: the original, and the young Wallace West, Wally’s cousin, who has been Kid Flash in the New 52. Young Wally will continue to be Kid Flash in Damian Wayne’s Teen Titans in Rebirth, while Older Wally will join the Titans (a.k.a the no-longer-teen Titans). Not as confusing as it sounds!
But let’s make like a time-traveling speedster and rewind a little, because Wally’s revival occurs quite a bit later on in Rebirth #1. While he attempts to break through to Bruce Wayne in the opening chapter of the issue, we learn something rather alarming. Batman is watching reports about Superman’s sudden absence (more on that in a bit) when Alfred interrupts him with a chilling report: The Joker is loose in Civic City. But it’s what Batman replies with that sets off alarm bells, as he tells Alfred that the Joker was caught in Baltimore, and is on his way to incarceration at Arkham. How can there be two Jokers at once?
There isn’t. There’s three. Batman reveals that when he briefly became the God of Knowledge, the all-powerful chair that bestowed him godhood revealed that the Joker is not a single person. Three people are or have been the Dark Knight’s archfoe. We see images of Jerry Robinson’s original Joker, the Joker as drawn by Brian Bolland in The Killing Joke, and finally Greg Capullo and Scott Snyder’s New52-era take on the character. Today’s issue of Justice League has more answers about the Joker’s true nature, but it looks like Batman is going to have his hands full with his most iconic foe. Err, foes.
As mentioned above, Superman is having some major problems of his own... like not being around any more.
We’ve known for a while that the New 52 version of Superman is going away—long story short, he’s currently dying. Today’s issue of Superman will see him battle a metahuman who believes he’s the real Superman, and it’s a conflict that Clark Kent does not make it out of intact. Rebirth #1 keeps it vague, with some background news reports declaring Superman as Missing in Action, while others—including the original Pre-New-52 Superman—believe him to be dead.
Speaking of which, this original Superman—the pre-New 52 Superman, who managed to survive into DC’s new continuity, and has been living in seclusion with his wife Lois Lane and his son—is hoping the death of Clark Kent doesn’t mean he has to make himself known to the wider world once more... but we already know that’s going to happen. Original Clark also bumps into the mysterious entity known as Mr. Oz in this issue, who offers a sinister threat: both Supermen are not who they really think they are. Dun-dun-dunnnn.
Let’s return to Wally West’s quest for a bit. While Wally is traversing the Speed Force across space and time, following his second attempt at entering the real world, he flashes through a series of vignettes that tease the return of some previously absent characters during the new 52:
- An unidentified woman arrested by police, claiming to be from the future—and the owner of a Legion flight ring, the identifying jewelry worn by the 31st Century supergroup Legion of Superheroes
- Ryan Choi, the fourth person to become the Atom (originally murdered in the Brightest Day comics event), who is tasked with rescuing Ray Palmer—also the Atom!—from the microverse
- Ted Kord, the longest-running holder of the Blue Beetle mantle, working with current Blue Beetle Jamie Reyes to discover the secrets of Jamie’s powers (or trying to, at least)
- Jackson Hyde, a.k.a Kaldur’ahm, the second Aqualad (and the one who appeared in the beloved animation series Young Justice), struggling with his Mother’s response to both his powers and his sexuality
There may be even more characters who were swept aside for the New 52 reboot that might be returning, but for now, these are the ones we know for certain are making a reappearance post-Rebirth.
It’s not just former beloved characters that are coming back, but seemingly also a legacy of relationships lost by the New 52—a repeated criticism of the reboot has long been that DC forced apart classic relationships that fans loved. Rebirth #1 confirms at least one relationship is back on the cards, as Aquaman proposes to Mera, and heavily hints at another, implying that Oliver Queen and Dinah Lance, despite barely knowing each other in the New 52, are starting to remember that there used to be something more between them.
Love is a very important theme in Rebirth—it’s Wally’s love of Linda that keeps him going until his heart is shattered by her not remembering him. It speaks to the brighter, more hopeful tone DC wants to inject into its comics again with the initiative.
This is literally covered in a single page, and then given no further consequence—which is sadly par for the course for the main Wonder Woman series lately.
The big revelation comes from Grail, the daughter of Darkseid, who’s played a large part in the Darkseid War event in the Justice League comic. She reveals to a baby Darkseid (surprise, Darkseid is also back, and a baby) that Wonder Woman’s twin brother, Jason, has a great power that both Grail and Diana will presumably be seeking out.
The reason that Wally West has been so desperate to get back to his friends and reality itself is that he has a dire warning. When the New 52 universe was created at the end of Flashpoint, a mysterious entity lashed out at the timeline, somehow stealing 10 years of events and memories from existence to weaken the world’s heroes. It’s this meddling that purportedly led to the legendary heroes of DC’s universe being mere novices when the New 52 began, rather than the established heroes they were, as well as the disappearance of a multitude of characters (like Wally!).
Wally’s message goes beyond that revelation, however, with another warning that this same entity is preparing to strike out at the DC universe again, in what he tells Barry Allen will be a “war between hope and despair, love and apathy, faith and disbelief.”
Wally’s right of course—but this entity has already struck once again. We briefly see Pandora, the cosmic entity who helped Barry Allen merge the timelines into the New 52 during Flashpoint, on the run from a mysterious foe.
She rails against the unseen enemy, declaring that the heroes of the world will stand for the hope and optimism this enemy opposes, and will stop him—but the immortal Pandora is obliterated into dust... a manner of death that will be all too familiar to comics fans after the revelation at the end of the issue.
While Wally delivers his dark portent to Barry, Rebirth #1 takes us to Batman’s Batcave for the first half of its final bombshell. Batman notices something glimmering in the corner of his eye while inspecting a letter given to him by the alternate version of his father, Thomas Wayne, at the climax of Flashpoint, and digs it out of the wall to get a better look...
It’s the bloodied badge of the Comedian, an iconic image from Alan Moore’s seminal superhero work Watchmen. Moore, Dave Gibbons, and John Higgins’ mediation on the superhero genre is still lauded as one of the finest comic books ever made, but its events have stayed separate from the DC comics continuity ever since the series first released in 1986... until now. Wally declares that the DC universe’s foes are watching them from beyond the veil, and those foes appear to be the Watchmen.
Well, actually, it’s a very specific member of the Watchmen that will play an antagonistic role in stories to come. The final pages of Rebirth #1 draw away from Earth to turn to Mars... and there we see the watch of the man formerly known as Dr. Jonathan Osterman before his transformation into the omnipotent Doctor Manhattan. The issue ends with famous lines from Watchmen, a conversation between Adrian Veidt and Doctor Manhattan, as the hands of the watch tick ever closer to midnight:
Veidt: I did the right thing, didn’t I? It all worked out in the end.
Dr. Manhattan: ‘In the end’? Nothing ends, Adrian. Nothing ever ends.
It’s a crazy situation—one we’ll apparently have to follow for the next two years to discover in its entirety, according to Geoff Johns. But considering Alan Moore’s relationship with DC Comics irrevocably shattered over the rights to Watchmen, this move probably makes him all the more furious with the company. We’ll probably be hearing about all that in the very near future.